To listen to conservative talk radio, one might be forgiven for thinking there is a growing chorus among Republicans that Attorney General Eric Holder should lose his job. But the echo chamber got some serious help from a single conservative media outlet.
As of press time, 54 Republicans in Congress, including two senators, have called on Holder to resign. But the word “called” may be a little strong. In fact, the movement started with four Republican House members—Blake Farenthold of Texas, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Joe Walsh of Illinois—pressing Holder to quit. Most of the other 50 members asked for Holder’s resignation only after being prompted by a reporter for the conservative website The Daily Caller.
Over the past month, Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle has called dozens of House and Senate offices, along with presidential campaigns, to ask whether Republicans believe Holder should resign in the wake of Operation Fast and Furious, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms allowed guns to be sold to Mexican drug cartels. The scandal has already cost several top ATF officials their jobs.
Boyle’s persistence has paid off. He has elicited a series of exclusive reports, nearly one every day, featuring another member of Congress or political figure calling for Holder’s head. Pursuing Holder has won The Daily Caller significant coverage by other conservative outlets. Tune in to Rush Limbaugh’s show, or Sean Hannity’s radio program, and it’s almost certain the topic will come up. The Washington Times, too, has featured coverage of Boyle’s reporting, and the Drudge Report features regular updates.
It’s hardly uncommon for reporters to hound members over whether someone should resign after a fiasco; witness the feeding frenzy over then-Rep. Anthony Weiner, when members couldn’t walk down the hall without being asked whether he should resign.
But it is unusual for a media outlet to spread out the reporting on a single story over such a long period of time, publishing individual reports on a handful of responses. The practice has given the Holder story a trajectory that Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member for ethics at the Poynter Institute, said may be artificial.
Three Republican presidential candidates—Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., businessman Herman Cain, and former Sen. Rick Santorum—have told The Daily Caller they believe Holder should step down. (Cain actually cited The Caller, saying at the time, “Thirty congressmen can’t be wrong.”) Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently called for Holder’s ouster in a Washington Times op-ed.
It’s even getting to the attorney general himself. At an event at the White House on Tuesday, Holder snapped at another Daily Caller reporter: “You guys need to—you need to stop this. It’s not an organic thing that’s just happening. You guys are behind it,” he said, according to several news outlets and a recording posted on The Daily Caller.
McBride called Boyle’s reporting deceptive. “[He is] making it appear as if there is a growing groundswell of individuals who are of their volition saying that they are against Holder,” McBride said. “I think if you’re going to have a campaign, you should be more honest and precise in the language that you’re using.”
McBride characterized Boyle’s reporting as “a campaign,” saying that it makes Boyle “more of an advocate and less of a journalist.
“It’s a very specific, strategic tactic,” she said. “And whether that serves personal time or his personal agenda or a news cycle, it is a strategy. It is just simply too bad that he can’t be more upfront about it.”
“I’m just calling up offices. I mean, I don’t know how they would say that it’s my fault,” Boyle said in an interview. “I’m just a 24-year-old reporter.” Boyle added: “I’m sure [Holder] can come up with up any more conspiracies that he would like.”
Boyle’s boss, Daily Caller Editor-in-Chief Tucker Carlson, has his reporter’s back. “The truth is, the facts are the facts of Fast and Furious—the idea that the federal government gave guns to Mexican drug lords, the guns were used to kill people including Americans—are so overwhelming that we don’t need to be a part of some diabolical plot,” he said Tuesday on Fox News.
Media critic and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting founder Jeff Cohen said The Daily Caller was guilty of “push reporting.” He did, however, defend the site’s right to pursue the story, saying in an e-mail: “Holder’s argument is with the members of Congress. Whether Boyle is a journalist or an activist, he sure has the right to persist and an [attorney general] asking such a person to ‘stop’ is a bit silly.”
Carlson and Boyle both pointed fingers at the mainstream press, saying that if Holder were a conservative appointee, the story would be getting much more attention. “They have made excuses for Eric Holder,” Carlson said. “Fifty-one House members, a senator, and three presidential candidates calling for his resignation—that’s not news?”
“I personally see some really bad stuff happened here and then the officials in Washington aren’t answering the questions,” Boyle said. “It’s pretty clear that he either lied to Congress or he just isn’t competent as the attorney general.”
This article appears in the Dec. 5, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.